Three feet of water from Hurricane Irene flooded into my basement and destroyed decades worth of my husband's photographs, original music and other irreplaceable personal effects. I'd encountered the same sort of sentimental loss - photographs, artwork and every love letter I'd gotten before the advent of e-mail - in another flood a little over a year ago.
We are incredibly lucky people; we still have a basement.
While my small upstate New York village of Sharon Springs encountered some downed trees, and I half expected to see a school of mackerel swimming down Main Street, it was nothing compared to the waste laid upon the towns and counties around us.
I watched the storm's inexorable march up the coastline as my red-slickered CNN colleagues chronicled the damage - and in some places, relief. Then the TV signal went out, but we didn't need it any more. I only had to look outside as the wind screamed and bent the trees, and the rain needled, then hammered the pavement.
Once it darkened, I could only hear - and read the stories that were beginning to surface online. In my area of the state, Margaretville, Phoenicia, Prattsville and Windham were decimated. The beautiful old Blenheim covered bridge was washed away. Businesses lining the postcard perfect main street of Middleburgh, were engulfed by feet of muddy water that had spilled from the storm-engorged Schoharie Creek that runs through the center of town.
Then the internet went out. We tried to piece together sporadic radio reports to assess the scope and boundaries of the devastation, and then decided to drive.
Even where flooding had subsided, State Troopers and National Guardsmen blocked entrance to roads onto which whole houses had washed and trees were strewn. On the approach to Middleburgh, which conflicting reports said was open to traffic...or not, drivers of cars speeding by in the other direction bellowed out the window, "Dam broke. DAM BROKE!" It had not as it turns out, but believe me, we turned around.
After many, many, many confusing hours, back in the safety of our apartment in Brooklyn (like I said, we're very lucky), my husband and I pored over resources, trying to see who we could help most quickly and most effectively. Towns are still in a state of triage, and groups like the Watershed Post are doing astonishing work mobilizing and organizing relief efforts, but there was one posting that just broke my heart.
Cookies. Everyone can wrap their heads around cookies, even when their world is crumbling around them. In the midst of chaos, total loss and bleak uncertainty, it's a small taste of normalcy. So very much more is needed, but anyone can start with that.
When I go back tonight, I'll bring spare clothes, shoes, blankets, toiletries, kitchen supplies and a willing set of hands for anyone who needs them for cleanup. But I'll also bake, and offer a home cooked meal for anyone I know who could use a little comfort when their world has been washed away. That, at least, is clear to me.
– More on how to help victims of Irene at Impact Your World
Photo above from iReporter Caleb Clark in Brattleboro, VT